Call me a true Pacific Northwester but I love the fall. I love the rain, and the cold, and sitting at home with a large cup of tea just being cozy. I love bundling up in layers, the scarves and hats and the many different coats. When you can snuggle up under your comforter in bed and nap without the grating hum of box fans circulating the air. Maybe it’s the lack of AC that prevents me this comfort during the summer combined with the miserable heat and the constant sun….*shudder*. I swear, I’m not a vampire. Once the frenzy of apple & pumpkin picking has died down, I eagerly anticipate the arrival of my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. I love that every year, despite where I am, I’m able to join with friends and family and enjoy a day of festivities and food. There is nothing as overwhelmingly comforting as stepping in from the cold outside and having the smell of delicious cooking waft over you like a warm blanket. I love that every year is different, yet the same. The location might change; some years I’m home and we either celebrate in Portland or at our beach house in Gearhart. Some years I’m away and join in the festivities with others. But every year, there is the promise of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, gravy, veggies and pie. Cocktails & wine, laughter & music. And: the date nut pudding.
We’ve had date nut pudding at every Thanksgiving that I can remember. It is my grandpa’s favorite dessert so we always make it, even if we aren’t celebrating together, in addition to the classic (but usually store bought) berry or pumpkin pie. As much as I LOVE pie, it’s not Thanksgiving if you don’t have date nut. On a few of the years when I wasn’t able to celebrate at home, I would visit my sister on the East coast and we still made it. It’s tradition!
The pudding originated from my great grandmother Hazel and is similar to a sticky toffee pudding. There is very little to it, deconstructed it’s a thick batter base with walnuts and chopped dates, topped with sugar syrup and baked into a gooey, sweet tooth tingling, delicious mess. My personal preference is topped with fresh whipped cream instead of ice cream, but I encourage you to try both. It’s amazing the next day, and actually freezes quite well if you just can’t manage to finish it off (not likely).
Isn’t it amazing that while I’ve never met my great grandmother Hazel, her recipe has had so much influence on my family’s traditions? It’s fascinating to think how many years this recipe has been in existence. I loved reading the original copy, things like “lump of butter the size of a walnut” and “bake until it seems done” wouldn’t pass muster in a modern recipe! I’m sure she had this memorized and didn’t need to go into detail.
This year, my sister will be coming home to Portland for Thanksgiving for the first time in 11 years. While we celebrated together a few years back in college and when I lived in New York, it’s been a very long time since we had our whole family together. The date nut pudding will be extra sweet this year.
I’ve adapted the recipe below from the original copy for clarity. The cake mix should be thin, more like a batter than a dough. You can also use any kind of milk, I usually use whole or 2% and it comes out great. When it comes to the dates, I’m a purist and like to buy whole pitted dates and chop them myself, rather than the pre-chopped dates in bags or in the bulk aisle of stores. Oftentimes those are actually pureed date paste molded into chopped pieces, or coated in a flour mixture to prevent sticking. When removing from the oven, give the pan a little shake to check for doneness. If it’s very thin and wiggly, it might need to go back in the oven. If the top is firm and only slightly wiggly on the sides, it’s done!